Hanukkah, or Chanukah background

How Do You Spell Hanukkah?

Virtually alone among Jewish holidays, the eight-day Festival of Lights is spelled in many ways.

Hanukkah? Chanukah? Hanukah?

How do you spell the name of the candle-lighting holiday that falls each year around the onset of winter? Like so many questions in Judaism, this one has no right answer.

The main complication is the first letter, which corresponds to the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet: chet (or het, or heth, or cheth; there’s no right spelling there either). There is no English equivalent of the chet sound, which is rendered in transliteration variously with a h, ch or kh. Those looking to emphasize the guttural sound of the chet will often use ch, while those looking for the closest English equivalent letter tend towards the h, also the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Another variation stems from the final letter. In Hebrew, that letter is hay, and in the Hebrew pronunciation it’s essentially silent. Many will add an “h” at the end to indicate the presence of the hay, but it doesn’t add much phonetically, so others may skip it.

The third letter of the word Hanukkah is a kaf and it is pronounced as a hard k due to the placement of a dagesh (written as a small dot) in the middle of the letter. Grammatically, this indicates that the kaf is doubled, which is why many spellings of Hanukkah have two k’s.

Just about the only letter about which there is complete agreement is the second one: nun. This letter is always rendered as a single n.

None of these spelling choices are inherently superior, and tastes and styles change over time. Chanukah was at one time the preferred spelling, and remains so among traditionalists. As of this writing, Hanukkah is the most common English spelling — judging from, among other things, Google hits. So that’s what we go with at My Jewish Learning, as do many major newspapers. But the other spellings still show up regularly.

Read about the five major differences between Hanukkah in Israel and the U.S. from Kveller.com

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